Danc­ing in the lime­light

This week, it’s time to re­visit an old clas­sic and revive a cot­tage gar­den­ing favourite, phlox

Gloucestershire Echo - - YOUR GARDEN - With Diar­muid Gavin

SOME plants are so fa­mil­iar and have been used in gar­dens for such a long time that oc­ca­sion­ally we for­get to ap­pre­ci­ate their qual­i­ties. I think phlox is one such plant that de­serves a bit more of the lime­light. It’s a main­stay of cot­tage gar­den­ing and the back­bone of many beau­ti­ful peren­nial bor­ders. Waist-high, it will beckon you to its de­li­cious per­fume, but will not dom­i­nate its sur­round­ings. It’s a tall, airy plant that will also blend well with its flow­er­ing neigh­bours, is easy to grow and will pro­vide lots of flow­ers through the sum­mer. It’s also great for your Septem­ber bor­ders. It makes an ex­cel­lent cut flower and will at­tract bees and but­ter­flies to your plot. Phlox pan­ic­u­lata, from which we get most of our cul­ti­vars, is an Amer­i­can na­tive grow­ing wild along the east­ern seaboard so it’s hardy and tough. It’s a meadow plant that likes fer­tile, moist soil, and this is the key to healthy phlox. Be­fore plant­ing, add loads of com­post or well-rot­ted ma­nure. This will both feed your plants and help the soil to re­tain mois­ture. A good mulch in early sum­mer will also help keep soil damp. Pow­dery mildew, a fun­gus which ap­pears as a whiteish pow­der on the leaves, is a com­mon prob­lem with phlox, but there are a num­ber of mea­sures you can take. Healthy plants sited in the right place are al­ways more re­silient to dis­eases, but you can also try homemade fungi­cides to keep it at bay. This can be a 10% so­lu­tion of milk in wa­ter ap­plied to the fo­liage, or a mix of bak­ing soda and wa­ter. Good air cir­cu­la­tion is also im­por­tant as wet and hu­mid con­di­tions can spread the fun­gus. At the end of the sea­son, cut down the fo­liage and de­stroy any in­fected fo­liage. The fun­gus won’t kill your plants and they will re-emerge in spring. If planted in the mid­dle of a border, any leaves dis­fig­ured by mildew will be hid­den by plant­ing to the front of it. If you are lift­ing and di­vid­ing, ei­ther be­cause the plant needs in­vig­o­ra­tion or to prop­a­gate, wait un­til spring as with most late-sum­mer flow­er­ing herba­ceous peren­ni­als. That said, you could get new plants in the ground now as the earth is warm and wel­com­ing. It will give them a chance to put on some root growth be­fore win­ter sets in. With their na­tive Amer­i­can back­ground, they will as­so­ciate well with prairie-style plants such as or­na­men­tal grasses, veron­i­cas­trums, rud­beck­ias, monar­das and cone­flow­ers. As well as di­vi­sion, you can prop­a­gate more of these beau­ties via soft cut­tings in early sum­mer or root cut­tings in the win­ter.

Many of the newer va­ri­eties won’t need stak­ing, and a good trick to pro­long the flow­er­ing sea­son is to give them the Chelsea chop in May. This means cut­ting some of the stems around the end of May which will pro­mote bushi­ness and stag­ger bloom­ing times. And don’t for­get to dead-head to max­imise flow­ers. There’s a huge va­ri­ety in colours from white to pink, salmon, or­anges, reds, lilacs and blues. ‘Blue Par­adise’ has gor­geous vi­o­let-blue flow­ers, and for pris­tine white, look out for ‘David.’ ‘Franz Schu­bert’ is an old va­ri­ety with soft lilac pink flow­ers, named af­ter the ro­man­tic com­poser. If you like a var­ie­gated leaf, ‘Har­lequin’ has creamy yel­low var­ie­ga­tion with in­tense ma­genta flow­ers.

Phlox is easy to grow and will pro­vide lots of flow­ers through the sum­mer

For a pris­tine white phlox, go for the David va­ri­ety

Phlox pan­ic­u­lata grows wild along the east­ern seaboard so it’s hardy and tough

Bees are at­tracted to phlox plants

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